I bought a book yesterday. That’s nothing unusual in my life as I have done that probably thousands of times. I can’t even imagine the amount of money I have spent on books but it’s money well spent as far as I’m concerned. I have learned more from reading than from any other source or activity ever. This book, with it’s irreverent title (see above) caught my eye. The first sentence inside the dust jacket says: “For decades we’ve been told that positive thinking is the key to a happy, rich life. But those days are over.” I had to buy it! It goes on to say, “-that improving our lives hinges not on our ability to turn lemons into lemonade but on learning to better stomach lemons.” Just from reading that much I knew this was going to be a good book.
Now I’ve only read as far as chapter four so I can’t give a complete review of the book but what I can say is that it reaffirms what I’ve believed for most of my life. That in order to be a whole person you have to accept the bad with the good. Humans are capable of the most selfless acts of compassion and the most heinous horrors imaginable. That basically means that most of us are somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. Concentrating on the positive all the time while hiding from the negative leaves a big part of our selves flapping in the wind like a ragged, dirty flag. The author says that pain and suffering are tools that can and should be used to teach us what not to do and how not to be. And they are just as important, sometimes more important than all the good, happy things about ourselves. And if we don’t embrace the ugliness inside of us all, we cannot be whole (my words). We only have so much that we can care about (the author uses the term, “give a #@%!”), and we will exhaust ourselves if we don’t choose the important things to give a #@%! about and discard the rest.
In the early Seventies when I was a teenager I read a book called, “Manchild In The Promised Land” by Claude Brown. It is the autobiographical story of the author’s life growing up in Harlem New York amid poverty, drugs, and violence. As a teen growing up in an average, white mid-western town I had no idea of life outside my bubble. This book opened my eyes to a larger world and basically showed how the author embraced his childhood as a major part of who he was. All the ugliness, crime, violence, drugs, etc, helped to make him a whole person. (As an adult, he became a lawyer.) The point is, our lives are not all laughter, and roses and happiness. There’s a lot of dirt mixed in. A lot of trash and just plain shit in there as well. And it all has helped to make us who we are.
The Buddha said that life is filled with suffering. And if you follow Buddhism’s Eight Fold Path, you can find a way out of suffering and reach enlightenment. Buddhism says that desire, clinging to desires or things, causes suffering. The way out of suffering is to rid yourself of those desires. But isn’t the desire to reach enlightenment simply another desire? In the Subtle Art Of Not Giving A #@%!, the author suggests that pain and suffering are tools we can use to become better people. Concentrating on the positive all the time and hiding from the negative keeps us from being whole. We need to find better ways of dealing with the negative aspects of ourselves and life in general because the negative is not going away. As the authors says, instead of trying to turn lemons into lemonade, we need to find better ways of stomaching the lemons.
I have been blessed with never needing or wanting a “self help” book, and this book defiantly falls into that category. But if you can get past the fact that the author uses the F word about a hundred times in the first chapter, You may like it. When you feel differently than just about everyone you know, it’s great to find a book or another person who lets you know that there are others out there who feel the same, it can be profound.